Ask Before Helping

The rule

On a proposal team (OK, maybe on any team), don’t jump in to help without first checking on a few things:

  • Whether help is, you know, wanted
  • What kind of help would be, you know, welcome
  • How to provide said help so that you aren’t, you know, causing trouble

The rule applies to everyone, but it applies more the more senior you are, or the more removed you’ve been from the main work stream of the proposal.

The story

The sales guy responsible for the client receiving this proposal was understandably eager to help.  As I started to assemble the package for the in-house printing and copying centre, I kept finding him standing behind me, smiling.

That, I could live with, although it was a bit unnerving.  Where it started to go south was when he started trying to help.  First he reorganized my piles of documents, lining everything up in nice rows with no gaps.

“No,” I said, “those gaps are how I know that I still need something from Production.”

He stopped moving stuff around, but he wasn’t happy.

Then, when we had everything, I started to pile documents together to take them down to the folks who would copy them for us.  He jumped in again, happily stacking documents in a way that they hated downstairs, because it cost them another step to realign the piles for input to their humongous copier.

“No,” I said, “they need them stacked like this.”  And showed him.

This time, he pouted.  “If you don’t want any help,” he huffed, and moved off.

I stopped for a minute and looked at him, wondering whether it was worth my bother.

“I do want help,” I said, “but we’re always asking the copying department for help with a last-minute job – that’s the nature of our business – so we work hard to make it as easy for them as we can.  To keep them as happy as we can.”

He came back to the table and watched me closely as I assembled packages of files in a way that would cause the least irritation for those folks who were so necessary to our on-time delivery of “his” proposal.

And then he started doing it the same way.

Hurray.

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